Iron Horse Blog

Joy Sterling
 
April 29, 2015 | Joy Sterling

Holy Water

Holy Water is an essay written by Joan Didion in 1979.  In a sentence, it’s about being obsessed with water. A feeling we know too well these days.  Joan Didion for me is a quintessential California writer like Wallace Stegner,  John Steinbeck,  Jack London,  Mark Twain – the sole woman in the pantheon.

 

Mainly, look at how cool she is:

 

THEN

 

And NOW, as a model for the Céline ads in all the fashion magazines - Vogue, Elle, W, Harpers Bazaar

 

 

Her essay Holy Water is a great read … or re-read in this time of extreme drought.  I highly, highly recommend it.  If you have a moment, tweet me what you think using @IronHorseVyds, @joybubbles and #HolyWater.

 

As a member of the Food and Agriculture Board, I get a daily compilation of 20 or more links  to every news story, fact sheet, white paper and blog being written about water, drought, fish, almonds, desalination, cemetery water use, etc.  So far, my favorite is an interactive map that shows water use by water district.  It’s interesting to see the variation across the state.  Click here for the map from The New York Times.
 
Among friends, casual dinner table conversation frequently turns to personal water saving tips.  One friend, who lives in Belvedere, says she lines up buckets in the shower to catch what you would normally let go down the drain until the water gets warm.  Another, says his wife got him to put tall plastic trash cans all over their lawn to capture and store rainfall.  He now refers to this installation as yard art. “My wife might let the lawn go, but never the roses”, he says.

 

 

These tips bring to mind another must-read:  Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster, in case you are considering building a cistern.

 

“Not many people I know carry their end of the conversation when I want to talk about water deliveries,” wrote Didion in 1979.  In 2015, just about everyone I know can hold their own on that topic!  We are acutely aware how water deliveries directly affect our personal lives. Back then, swimming pools were easy targets as symbols of excessive water use.  The war cry in the North was “we don’t want our water going to fill the swimming pools of Beverly Hills."

 

Today’s villains are the almond growers.  Everyone is shocked to learn that it takes a gallon of water to grow one almond … and that 90% of California almonds get exported. But it is too facile to point fingers. Here is an excellent article from The Guardian that provides a balanced view.  It presents the argument of an almond grower through exploring a case study.  The piece tracks a family-owned almond farm which began investing in water efficiency decades before it was "cool."  Sounds like a beautiful vineyard in Green Valley I know....

 

 
I am optimistic.

 

For one thing, the board I sit on is very active in advising the Governor.  A positive sign that our leadership is open to diverse and expert inputs. Number two, the state is facing the issue head on… as is every local agency.  Every asset, every resource is being thrown into the fight.  Everyone in a position to make a difference is working very hard and they are all very, very smart.

 

As the Governor said at our Celebrate Earth Day in Green Valley event, “Don’t worry about the drought. Just don’t use too much water.”

 

I will continue to keep you updated as California drought coverage and state action plans develop.  Let’s keep this urgently needed conversation alive #HolyWater

 

 

Time Posted: Apr 29, 2015 at 12:57 PM
Joy Sterling
 
April 27, 2015 | Joy Sterling

Iron Horse Announcement - A White House Tradition Continues

It’s not every day I start off the week with an Iron Horse “shout out” from the Office of the First Lady.  I’m proud to announce that our wine - 2007 Russian River Cuvee - will be poured at Tuesday evening’s State Dinner for the Prime Minister of Japan.

 

As I’m sure you know, an invitation to a White House state dinner is one of Washington's most sought-after “tickets”. VIP guests resplendent in black tie  and designer gowns dine on an impeccably concepted four-course meal served by America's most famous kitchen.
 
The news that Iron Horse has a ticket as a featured VIP beverage came during an 11AM EST press preview for the State Dinner, led by Michelle Obama (ending speculation over which “patriotic tasting wine” would be chosen). Find the menu announcement here. The guest chef is Masaharu Morimoto. The tables will be decorated with cherry blossoms that symbolize the friendship between the US and Japan … and each place setting will have a set of red lacquered chopsticks.

 

The First Lady unveiled the menu along with the Obama state china service which she had a hand in designing. The china introduces a special blue inspired by the waters of Hawaii being called  “Kailua blue” and the service was made by Pickard China, of Antioch, Illinois. The President was born in Hawaii and Illinois is the First Lady’s home state. Find the Architectural Digest spotlight on the china here.

 

 

Iron Horse is “at home” in the elegant State Dining Room during this Obama administration which has been selective with their schedule of State Dinners. They’ve hosted the fewest since the Truman administration, which seems to assign each event heightened historical significance. Our wine was served at the State Dinner for India in November 2009 (It paired wonderfully with the post-meal Beyoncé performance!) as well as the State Dinner for David Cameron in March 2012. Traditionally, Iron Horse is served as the toasting wine, at the end of the meal.

 

 

The Iron Horse relationship with the Obamas continues our vineyard’s tradition of strong White House relations. Iron Horse has been a favorite going back 30 years and five consecutive Presidential Administrations. Something we’re very proud of. Stay tuned as we continue to chronicle all exciting elements of this soiree - from the bubbles to the fashion & entertainment - with the hashtag #IronHorseintheWhiteHouse

 

Time Posted: Apr 27, 2015 at 9:56 AM
Joy Sterling
 
April 20, 2015 | Joy Sterling

2015 Earth Day in Green Valley

Earth Day carries a lot of meaning for Iron Horse Vineyards and this year was is different. The global holiday marks an urgent call to arms in the conservation of the world around us. In this spirit, my Green Valley based family hosted honored guests in celebrating our love of the land. I was thrilled to introduce inspiring keynote speakers and friends; Gov. Jerry Brown and Kevin Jorgeson.

 

 
Kevin famously topped the Dawn Wall of El Capitan and subsequently toasted with Iron Horse bubbly. As a special celebration of the unprecedented 3,000 foot free-climb of climbing partners Kevin and Tommy Caldwell, we introduced our 2010 Summit Cuvée, a limited production, one time only, vintage brut which Jorgeson helped us finesse.
 
Surprising attendees with an impromptu conversation on the California drought, Gov. Jerry Brown ascended the podium and seized a moment to applaud California’s environmental leadership. He reassures residents the state will survive its historic four-year drought through creativity and unity. My favorite quote from the Governor's talk: Don't worry about the drought; just don't use too much water!

 

 
The day was a smashing success and it has triggered some soul searching. As we celebrate Earth Day in our roles as stewards of the environment, Kevin Jorgesen asks us: What’s OUR Dawn Wall? He never gave up on his dream of free-climbing El Capitan. My dream is for a united push towards great responsibility to the environment. The rewards of pushing through imagined limitations are endless.
 
….Because nothing compliments bubbles like a mountainous cake, we wrapped up the day by inviting Kevin Jorgeson to slice up a sweet replica of El Capitan after tracing his route on the “iced” terrain. Ain’t life sweet?

 

 
Find more information about participating colleagues who poured their own delicious Green Valley Chardonnays & Pinot Noirs during the event: Deloach Vineyards, Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Freeman Vineyard & Winery, Hartford Family Winery, Lynmar Estate, Marimar Estate, Macphail Family Wines, The Rubin Family of Wines

 

 
Find a fantastic recap of the day from Press Democrat here: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/3812019-186/governor-urges-unity-in-drought

Get your limited edition 2010 Summit Cuvee here: http://bit.ly/1H9hVMf

 

Find an Earth Day event recap from one of our VIP guests, Adrienne from Rich Life on a Budget, here: http://bit.ly/1DBUdBb

 

Peruse another Earth Day recap from a friend of Iron Horse, Jo Diaz, who has honored me with the title of "Mother Nature in Disguise:" http://bit.ly/1DOILp5

 

Time Posted: Apr 20, 2015 at 1:11 PM
Joy Sterling
 
April 10, 2015 | Joy Sterling

The Cost of Water & Our Vineyard's Footprint

Everything costs water:
  • It takes about 30 – 35 gallons of water to make a glass of wine
  • 56 gallons for a latte to go
  • 400 gallons to grow the cotton for a T-shirt
  • 6230 gallons a week to maintain a 100’ x 100’ lawn
Think about the possible tradeoffs. According to one calculation, if you pulled out a thousand square feet of lawn, you could enjoy an additional three bottles of wine a week and come out even in your water footprint.
 
I have heard several friends complain that they can’t possibly cut back any more than they already have. City dwellers resent the farmers. Some farmers feel they are being pitted against the environmentalists. The fact is, we are all in this together. We each have to do our utmost.
 
Here is a snapshot of our water use – in the vineyards, the winery and our personal lives. Bear in mind, Iron Horse is our business and it is also our home. We have three generations living on the property (in three homes), plus two of our foremen in separate houses with their families.
 

 

 

We have five wells, which supply the houses and a 45-acre foot reservoir that my parents built when they purchased the vineyard in 1976. The reservoir is fed primarily by rainwater, Green Valley Creek (a tributary of the Russian River), and highly treated waste-water from nearby Forestville.

 

 

Our rights to Green Valley Creek are called “licensed” water rights. The main license goes back to 1975.  A smaller one goes back to 1948. These are limited rights.  We can take no more than 86 acre-feet during the season (November to June) at a rate of less than 5 cubic feet per second (cfs, or 2,245 gal/min), assuming there is enough water in the creek for both us and the fish.

 

It is a great source of pride that the Department of Fish and Wildlife has spotted Coho salmon in Green Valley Creek for the first time in 20 years.
 

 

The reservoir gets recharged with recycled water upon request. Our agreement is to take 20 acre feet, and have an option for 20 more.  Last year we received 30 plus acre feet; the year before about 12.
 
Frost protection and irrigation efforts are powered by the reservoir. These actions benefit 1) the vineyard 2) the orchard and flower garden at my parents’ house and 3) the summer vegetable garden behind my house.
 

 

The most significant water usage is associated with frost protection in the vineyard. Last year’s weather spared us from excessive water use, we activated the frost protection system only four times. One of the worst years was 2008 when ice was hanging from the vines.
 
We use conventional overhead sprinklers for vineyard frost protection. We can’t use wind machines like you see on flatland vineyards in Napa nor smudge pots like citrus growers because our property is a series of rolling hills.  Our proximity to the ocean makes us vulnerable to frost as late as June 1. The stakes are high for us; not frost protecting could expose us to losing a third of our crop.
 
Overhead sprinklers deliver water at a rate of roughly one-quarter to one-third of an inch per hour. So far this season, we have turned on the sprinklers four times - about 13 hours total.
 
In the winery, our major water usage is for 1) cleaning tanks, barrels, picking bins and the presses during harvest and 2) power washing the floors. We pride ourselves on maintaining an immaculate facility.  All of our grey water goes through the storm drains to the reservoir. We do not use detergents.
 
 
In our homes, even farmers take Navy showers.
 
Every vineyard’s water use varies, just like fine wine, with the climate, the soil and the lay of the land. I would rate our water use at 94 points on a 100 point scale. We can always do better.

 

The point is, we live in a watery world. It takes/costs water to do everything. An economist will tell you that if water was given its real monetary value, we wouldn’t have a problem. The market would even itself out naturally.

 

Except that water is a right, like air. The state has assigned relief funds for rural communities where the wells have gone dry. Food banks are gearing up for added demand in the summer as land is fallowed, resulting in job loss. In November 2014, California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross launched a campaign to raise 200 million pounds of food for food banks by the end of the year.
 
As with just about everything, I think we want/need to strike a balance.

 

For additional information on water and agriculture, I highly recommend the Public Policy Institute of California's "Water for Farms" briefing that just came out and that CDFA posted on their Planting Seeds blog. Their report provides accurate statistics and comes from a well-respected, non-partisan organization.  

 

Find the personal water footprint calculator from National Geographic here.

 

And consider this final water conservation tip – old wine barrels are great for harvesting rain water.
 

 

 

 

 

Joy Sterling
 
March 31, 2015 | Joy Sterling

Star Chef Series: Sparkling & Spring with Charlie Palmer

Welcome to the first installment of our Star Chef Blog Series. Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing Q&As with our most special friends who serve custom Iron Horse cuvees in their restaurants. In honor of Easter & Passover, and with the spirit of renewal that comes with Spring, we’ve interviewed Iron Horse's great friend Charlie Palmer for a fresh take on a classic.
 
Starting with New York City’s Aureole, Charlie now owns 14 restaurants around the country, two hotels in the heart of California’s wine country and The Mystic Hotel in San Francisco.  Our friendship with Charlie Palmer is as rich as his culinary creations and shines through in the delicious Aureole Cuvee. The current release is our 20th vintage of making this unique, limited production bubbly.

 

When we called Charlie up one early Spring day, we challenged him to walk us through a seasonally appropriate food pairing for our sparkling wine and Pinot Noirs. The season is right for the Sonoma County baby lamb or ham and our Pinot Noirs just received stellar ratings by the editors at Wine Enthusiast which will appear in the June 2015 issue. Here’s what we learned...

 

IRON HORSE INTERVIEW WITH CHARLIE PALMER:
 
Iron Horse: What drew you to develop a partnership with Iron Horse?
 
Charlie Palmer: We started with Iron Horse years ago. My team of wine directors and sommeliers aimed to develop a sparkling wine that was both “food friendly” and could be an aperitif. The Aureole Cuvee is just that. We offer restaurant guests a small coup glass as they peruse the cocktail menu. Just 3 ozs of bubbles triggers that feeling of celebration and serves as a palette starter, but you can certainly drink it through the entire meal.

 

Iron Horse: What flavors make the Aureole Cuvee a menu go-to for you?
 
Charlie Palmer: It’s about freshness and balance. It was important that the sparkling wine bring good acidity to compliment richer foods with higher fat content.
 
Iron Horse: Spring has sprung at our vineyards. What celebratory sparkling creations are you preparing for Easter and Passover celebrations at your restaurant?
 
Charlie Palmer: When you think of Easter and Passover, you think of brunch. Our brunch menus at a few of the restaurants will offer a seasonal sparkling wine cocktail which will include 6 oz of the Aureole Cuvee, a few drops of pomegranate syrup to get a blush pink coloring, pomegranate seeds, and half an ounce of absynth.
 
Iron Horse: What’s on the menu for the main course?
 
Charlie Palmer: When I was a kid we always had a big, roast ham for Easter. It brings salty, rich flavors that are perfect for pairing with Iron Horse Pinot Noir. The fatty, smokiness of the cured ham is perfect for balancing the Pinot Noir flavors which bring fruitiness and acidity up front. Lamb dishes would also work wonderfully.
 
Iron Horse: You mention Pinot Noirs, ours were recently honored with excellent ratings awarded by Wine Enthusiast. What makes this Iron Horse red stand out?
 
Charlie Palmer: When people think about Iron Horse - they think about sparkling. But the Pinots have some of the most interesting terrior make-ups. Green Valley Pinot is different from other areas because of its indigenous vegetal overtone which makes them more interesting than some of the bigger fruit bombs from Sonoma Coast and Russian River. They have great depth and finesse that are more Burgundian in style than others you see from California.
 
Iron Horse: Finally, how do you conclude an Easter or Passover meal?
 
Charlie Palmer: I’m not big on sweet wines or Ports. More than anything else I like the idea of closing the meal with dessert and sparkling wine, especially fruit desserts. I would recommend poached green peaches with deconstructed crumble and Aureole Cuvee. This has good acidity and effervescence from the sparkling wine in the poaching liquid.

For more information about Charlie Palmer’s current projects visit charliepalmer.com. Find shop our full selection of Iron Horse Sparkling Wine on our website.
Joy Sterling
 
March 23, 2015 | Joy Sterling

Luncheon with the U.S. Ambassador to China

I had the pleasure of meeting with U.S. Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, and his wife, Melodee Hanes while they were visiting Napa Valley last Friday.  Over a sinfully delicious pizza lunch, I joined fellow industry leaders to brainstorm ways to increase California wine exports to China.

 

Wine Institute sponsored this roundtable luncheon with exporting vintners active in the China market.  I participated as a representative of both Iron Horse Vineyard & Sonoma County and I joined colleagues including Michael Parr representing Wente Family Vineyards and Richard Grey from E&J Gallo.  The event was hosted by Delicato Family Vineyards CEO Chris Indelicato, at Black Stallion Winery in Napa.  
 
Our challenge was simple - to rechart a course towards a successful exporting relationship with China after austerity campaigns led to a 7% decline in California wine exports in 2014.  With China representing the world’s largest red wine drinking nation, the mission is certainly worthy.
 
Four next steps emerged from the roundtable discussion:
  • Build partnerships with tourism boards, i.e. Visit California and Sonoma County Tourism Bureau, to bring more Chinese tourists to wine country.
  • Pitch strategic partnerships with Disney about featuring California wines when Shanghai Disneyland opens in 2016.
  • Ambassador Baucus and his wife graciously offered to host a dinner in Beijing featuring California wine and agricultural products in the Fall.
  • Optimize Wine Institute’s education program in China to build awareness of California as home to premium wines.
 
As a California wine ambassador and family vineyard owner, I am thrilled to be part of restarting these great business relationships.  We have extensive experience exporting to China since we launched our trade with the country in 2011 via a special Chinese “Year of the Dragon” Cuvee.  The wine was a major hit with buyers and was notably served at a 2012 State Department luncheon honoring then Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping hosted by Hillary Clinton & Joe Biden.  We continue to develop special cuvee offerings for our Chinese audience and look forward to increased collaboration with our global Iron Horse Family.

 

For more information, find the fill Wine Institute press release on 2014 California wine exports here: http://bit.ly/1HstTg9

 

Time Posted: Mar 23, 2015 at 2:25 PM